- Peter Marra
Audience Guide - Trans Stellar 2020 Virtual Film Festival
Author’s Note: I am a judge and programmer with the Trans Stellar Film Festival. Therefore, I am totally biased in my endorsement of these films. However, having seen every film at the festival, I am highly qualified to give this breakdown. Also, please note these opinions are my own and in no way reflect the opinions of the festival.
About the Festival
Trans Stellar Film Festival is a Detroit based non-profit film festival spotlighting films from around the world made by queer filmmakers.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, the festival will go virtual this year, allowing you to screen the films from anywhere in the world right in your own home.
Tickets for a single screening cost $10, a day pass $15, a weekend pass $30. To purchase tickets, visit the festival homepage on Xerb.tv. Click “Get Passes” and choose your option. The festival operates on a sliding scale to accommodate as many guests as possible. Under each pass there is a drop-down menu asking “Do any of these discounts apply to you?” You may utilize this menu and pay what you are able. Individual tickets can be reduced as low as $2 and weekend passes as low as $10. 70% of proceeds from ticket sales are distributed among the participating filmmakers. 30% apply to expenses of the festival. All work for the festival is volunteer and no profits are made.
Part One: The Best of the Best
For anyone seeking a specific taste, see Part Two below. For those hoping to glance at a thing and get a shorthand account of what is most worth your time and money enjoy these honest and to the point highlights.
Award Winning Documentaries
This programming block contains the festival awardees for Best Documentary Feature and Best Feature, Born to Be, and Best Documentary Short, Call Center Blues. These are easily among the best films of the festival. The exceptional Born to Be has gone on to secure distribution through Kino Lorber, which will make the film available in limited theaters and online starting November 18th. That makes Trans Stellar’s digital exhibition a special advanced screening option for what is sure to be among the year’s most celebrated docs. Born to Be is an important and emotionally moving look at the experiences of trans individuals in the process of receiving gender confirmation surgeries as well as an account of the unlikely doctor, Jess Ting, who through his compassionate commitment to the community became one of the leading surgeons in the field of trans medicine. This film does contain frank discussions of surgeries and trans-related trauma as well as mentions of suicide. Call Center Blues is a lyrical portrait of a community I have not seen represented before – deportees living in Tijuana, Mexico who are recruited for call center jobs because they are fluent in English. The film portrays the cultural complexity of being displaced as an adult from the only home you have ever known and the strangeness of being hired to a job that directly commodifies this experience. I would say that
during judging these were among the most universally agreed upon and well-liked films. They are the ones I think almost anyone would enjoy and learn something form watching. My go-to answer for “What would you recommend?”
Queer for Fear
Horror is pretty much always already queer and it has been of utmost interest for me to see how queer filmmakers have grown and reshaped the feelings of monstrousness and otherness that stand as foundations of the genre. In this block of horror shorts and apocalyptic abstractions, we see the full potential of a queer horror cinema. The block has been programmed specifically to transition from the most narrative shorts to the most experimental. And from the familiar monsters of the horror genre to the most painfully recognizable everyday sociopolitical threats to queer people. In Mostro, a queer teenager fears he will be outed as he becomes surveilled after exploring a queer chat room online. Shattered is a bit Jawbreaker, a bit I Know What You Did Last Summer but with queer women at the forefront. Films like Chair Amour and Innocent Boy begin to process experiences of homophobia and transphobia in stunning neon-hued fashion editorial montages, teetering on a music video form. And with the arrival of a trio of deeply disturbing experimental horror films – RUN!, White Whale, and They Will Know You By Your Fruit – we descend into the political realities that underlie the metaphoric monsters – legal transgender discrimination, nuclear war, mass shootings, racist violence, attacks on bodily autonomy. This is a disturbing set of films and I would advise those who do not feel comfortable with horror, violence, or explicit representations of bigotry to steer clear. As a horror nerd, I am excited for these films as I am invested in the potential for queer horror to speak on the bleakest parts of our lived experiences. Includes award winners Best Horror (They Will Know You By Your Fruit), Best Cinematography (Innocent Boy), Best Sound Design (White Whale), and Best Michigan Made (Autolysis).
For the people who want to laugh and sing…or maybe who just want to watch some weird stuff. This is a block of queer absurdist shorts. During judging, I kept referencing the DIY fun and surreal playfulness of filmmakers like Vaginal Davis and Tom Rubnitz (Google Pickle Surprise and then meet me back here). There is a camp energy around both gender and genre in these films, exploring what it means to make an all trans cast Western (Stinkhorn) or an enby buddy comedy (Enby Enterrupted) or a drag musical kids’ show (Eat the Rainbow). In every instance, the filmmakers play with conventions of the genre to make winking in-jokes – such as the spot-on 8-bit graphics in the lo-fi sci-fi musical The Tetrahedron or the bold proclamations made in the mock trailer Roby Nude (the unofficial award winner for film we joked about at first but then kept bringing up in almost every meeting). These are the films I have rewatched the most, the ones that would be the most fun to watch in a group with snacks. Queer silliness, with the dial turned up. Includes award winners Best Narrative Film and Best Comedy (Enby Enterrupted) and Best Musical (Eat the Rainbow).
Part Two: A Curated Guide Just for You
Below are some catch-all categories designed to help identify your ideal screening options based upon personal taste and desired experience.
For Doc Lovers
In addition to the Award Winning Documentaries block (see above for full details), we also have many other quality docs to choose from. This includes feature length documentaries March for Dignity (about the dangerous struggle to organize a Pride march in Georgia) and Who’s Gonna Love Me Now? (an intimate portrait of a queer HIV+ Israeli immigrant living in London and trying to communicate with his religious conservative family at home). Sapphic Communities includes the electric hip-hop music documentary about queer women MCs Where My Girls and a fascinating historical portrait of lesbians who grew up using a secret code to find each other in 1970’s Albuquerque, New Mexico (The Whistle). Free for all, courtesy of the filmmakers, are the shorts under Free Films, Invisible Men and Because They Love Me, about the experiences of trans men in Brazilian prisons and a celebration of a queer person’s support system in Colombia respectively.
Trans Stellar includes a block of Family Films that focuses on the experiences of queer youth. This includes the fairytale Boys Don’t Wear Dresses (starring trans icon Alexandra Billings and featuring narrator Carol Kane), the self-portrait of gender exploration in the digital age Baby Steps, and the trans time travel fantasy Transcending Time (CW: suicide). While those lighter films make great viewing for the whole family, queer parents might also watch a more dramatic sister block Parenting (or lack of), including international narratives about lost parents, adrift children, and the journey to queer parenthood. Standout Project Baby, about a gay and lesbian couple meeting to discuss co-parenting, is the festival awardee for Best International Film.
For Genre Fans
Trans Stellar runs the gamut on genre cinema this year and the helpful blocks curate a playlist of shorts for several different tastes. Queer for Fear (see above for full details) brings queer horror into focus while Genre Bending (see also above) offers musicals, comedies, camp, and cult fare. Of equal note, Queered Science, brings queer POVs to sci-fi with a string of mind-blowing, imaginative, and romantic films set in speculative futures and alternate dimensions. The eerie Immortal plays gods and monsters as a scientist seeks the key to eternal life at the possible expense of her marriage, while Transmission fractures reality as two lovers journey to put themselves, and the world, back together again, among others.
For People Who Want to Think
Many festival docs (see above) offer thoughtful insights, but for those who want to listen to conversations about queer identities, queer futures, and queer sexualities, Perspectives offers a uniquely talky experience, framed around extended interviews documenting communities in process. Includes Reimagining Tomorrow about BIPOC polyamorous activists imagining a new world and Consent-Factory: Lesbo-Queer Perspectives featuring discussions of consent and aggression in sexuality.